Friday, April 17, 2009
This 2007 Oscar nominated documentary by German filmmaker Werner Herzog starts with a question. Why in the world would advanced creatures actually seek to dwell in Antarctica? Herzog went into every aspect of Antarctic life that is inhabited by humans. He profiled those studying the air, water, flora, fauna, ice, even those studying volcanoes. What he found was a common thread of adventure and curiosity. The people who are down there are, as he puts it, dreamers and sojourners. Imagine a place with no native people, no language and populated almost entirely by scientists and engineers. What one gets when they view this pic is an inside look at the strange and wondrous things that inhabit this odd continent, but also a look into the 'society' of dreamers and sojourners who chose to go to great lengths to be there. As usual, Herzog narrates the entire thing, injecting the subject with his signature brand of bleakness and sometimes I felt like he was telling the audience how to feel much more than he was allowing the object of the inquiry to speak for itself. Because of this over narration, the film, at times, felt too similar to other doc's of his. However, overall, it's a fascinating look into a very interesting place and Herzog sure knows how to use his camera to capture the compelling and how to use his narration to explain just precisely what you're seeing has to say about humanity. Herzog is famous for his independent spirit and the sense of adventure he brings to filmmaking and it shows here. It's worth a watch, even if I feel like he achieved this purpose better in Little Dieter Needs to Fly, but that's just me. Pick them both up. And add Grizzly Man as a chaser.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
2005 drama/comedy by Mike Mills (no, not the one from REM) about a 17-year-old boy who is trying to figure out who he is and in the process maybe finally make out with a girl, do better at school, potentially get into a New York college and shed his small Oregon town and, in his opinion, lame parents...oh, and to figure out how to stop sucking his thumb. This is Mills' second feature film and it shows, in that it's far to scattered to be effective. None of the relationships or characters are developed well and some of them come and go from the flick with almost no explanation. In fact, the thumbsucking is a great example of this too. After watching the movie I really don't know why that was even necessary. I mean, I see why it was there, as this was pretty much about a guy who has to determine to grow up and put away childish things so he doesn't end up living at his parent's Tigard house into his Thirties, but it's barely part of the movie and seems to have just been thrown in there for storytelling convenience. The movie has a distinct visual style, which is nice, and Elliott Smith contributed original songs to this flick just before he died, which is great. And some of the performances were pretty good, especially Tilda Swinton's, but overall the movie was pretty boring and the story was totally cliche. I mean, seriously, how many indpenedent movies do we need about high school kids who are looking for love (or, more accuratly, sex) and desperately hoping to escape the confines of their oppressively lame parents/hometown. I blame you John Hughes. If you want a better version of this same story, see The Wackness, and skip this one. The sign of bad direction, in my opinion, is bad pacing and a lack of effective story cohesion and this movie has both of those symptoms.
Monday, April 13, 2009
2008 drama written and directed by John Patrick Shanley based on the play, which was also written and directed by John Patrick Shanley. Clearly he feels very deeply about this story, and thank goodness because this movie is tense, naturaly, sincere and very compelling, which is mounds more than I can say about anything else Shanley's done (for example, his last directorial attempt Joe Versus the Volcano). Well, regardless of whether or not he's been a Hollywood C-student so far, he gets a solid A with this one. Doubt tells the story of three administrative persons at a parish and parish school. A nun/principal Sister Aloysius (played by Meryl Streep), a priest Father Flynn (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a teacher/nun Sister James (played by Amy Adams) and a matter that comes up that disrupts them all. The school has just allowed it's first African-American student and the priest is taking him under his wing. There's a moment where Father Flynn calls him out of class for a private meeting and he comes back to class acting odd and smelling of alcohol. Sister James brings this information to the principal and sparks a conflagration. Sister Aloysius becomes obsessed with punishing and banishing Father Flynn. This is what the movie is factually about, but really the movie is about control and certainty and how sometimes our desperate yearning to attain both can require great, and arguably unnecessary, costs. Sister Aloysius is doing something that no one wants and no one believes. Sister James at a point asked, "Have you proved this?" Aloysius responds, "to whom?" James, "To anyone but yourself." Sometimes we want something so bad, want to be right so badly, that it doesn't matter who we hurt or what we do to get it, even hurting ourself. Aloysius is a woman of great convictions and deepseated beliefs, but she's also alone and feared and likely hated by many. She never speaks of any true theology or ever of the compassionate side of Christ. In fact, Christ isn't mentioned at all. This need for control and certainty has been a virus that has plagued the Church, leaving many bodies in it's wake and leading many good people to flee from the Church feeling like they'll turn into salt if they even look back. We've all known a Sister Aloysius and that's the problem. This aspect of the Church creates more victims than it does actually foster the spirit and message of Christ or even the Church itself. A good example is when Aloysius suggests Sister James put up a picture of the Pope and James says, "we can't put that one up, it's the wrong Pope." To which Aloysius says, "Oh, who cares what Pope it is, what you need is the reflective surface so you can see what the children are doing behind you while you're writing on the board." Exactly. What makes this movie worth every minute are the performances. I think Viola Davis got an Oscar nom simply b/c Academy voters wanted to give one to everyone who had more than a line in this movie b/c I kid you not this movie has the strongest ensemble performance I've ever seen. This wasn't a great actor surrounded by good actors, everyone in this flick is firing at all pistons. The three main's especially are all truly amazing and I felt like I could watch them for days. When the movie was over I didn't want to leave them. Streep, however, brought it to another level. This was easily my favorite performance of her's. There was an entire novel's worth of emotion in every movement and facial expression she made. Every look is full of complexity and apparent, natural emotion. At all times the viewer knows absolutely that this person truly believes in what she's saying or doing. And every action and reaction felt totally honest, even when she's outright lying. This is a sad story, but one that's made gripping and enjoyable to watch thanks to the very strong performances of the primary actors and the fantastic visual work by my man man Roger Deakins.